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April Marks 11th Consecutive Month of Record-Breaking Temperatures As Scientists Warn of ‘Unch

While El Niño conditions that brought “off-the-charts” temperatures in 2023 continued to weaken, April was still “unusually“ warm, the EU Earth observation agency Copernicus said on Tuesday.

April was the eleventh month in a row to set a new record after temperatures in March reached unprecedented levels, new data has shown. This has only happened another time before, during the last El Niño event in 2015-2016.

According to the latest climate bulletin published Tuesday by the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), the average global temperature last month stood at 15.03C, 0.67C higher than the 1991-2020 average for April and breaking the previous record set in 2016.

Monthly surface temperature anomaly April 2024

Surface air temperature anomaly for April 2024 relative to the April average for the period 1991-2020. Data source: ERA5. Image: C3S/ECMWF.

The global average temperature for the past 12 consecutive months is the highest ever recorded at 1.61C above pre-industrial levels. While this does not signal a permanent breach of the critical 1.5C global warming threshold set in the Paris Agreement, which scientists say is measured over decades, it sends a clear warning to humanity that we are approaching the point of no return much faster than expected.

Extreme Weather

Eastern Europe, northern and northeastern North America, Greenland, eastern Asia, northwest Middle East, parts of South America, and most of Africa all recorded above-average temperatures for the month, Copernicus said.

Last month was the second-hottest April on record for Europe, marking the continuation of a trend that is warning experts. The world’s fastest-warming continent saw above-average temperatures for 11 months last year, a record number of days with “extreme heat stress,” and 7% more precipitation than average, a recently published joint report by C3S and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) revealed. The same study also showed that heat-related mortality in the continent increased by 30% in the past two decades.

April was also northeast India’s hottest since records began. Odisha, West Bengal, and Jharkhand in eastern India registered 18, 16, and 10 heatwave days, respectively, with at least nine people reportedly dead amid scorching heat.

A prolonged heatwave brought temperatures appreciably above average to parts of Thailand, too, bringing the number of heat-related casualties in the country since January to 30. In all of 2023, a total of 37 people reportedly died countrywide from excessive heat.

Meanwhile, Kenya and Tanzania in East Africa and the province of Guangdong in southeast China were battered by torrential rain that led to deadly floods and landslides, displacing hundreds of thousands of people.

Ocean Temperatures

Despite the gradual weakening of El Niño, a weather pattern associated with the unusual warming of surface waters in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, the global sea surface temperature remained “unusually high” last month, Copernicus said, averaging at 21.04C – the highest value on record for April.

Daily sea surface temperature (°C) averaged over the extra-polar global ocean (60°S–60°N) for 2023 (orange) and 2024 (dark red).

Daily sea surface temperature (°C) averaged over the extra-polar global ocean (60°S–60°N) for 2023 (orange) and 2024 (dark red). Data source: ERA5. Image: C3S/ECMWF.

April also marked the 13th consecutive month of record-breaking sea surface temperatures for the respective month of the year.

“There has always been the assumption that the ocean can cope with this, that the ocean is able to absorb this heat in a predictable, linear way, without causing surprise or any sudden abrupt changes. Up until 2023. Because suddenly, temperatures [went] off the charts, and that’s what is so shocking,” said Professor Johan Rockström, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, in a recent interview with Earth.Org.

The relentless rise of ocean temperatures has taken a toll on coral reefs around the world, leading to the fourth global coral bleaching event in history, already the second this decade. These important ecosystems support at least 25% of marine species; they are integral to sustaining Earth’s vast and interconnected web of marine biodiversity and provide ecosystem services valued up to $9.9 trillion annually.

‘Uncharted Territory’

Climate scientist and energy systems analyst Zeke Hausfather wrote in a post on X (formerly Twitter) that, “while the approach used to assess annual temperatures based on the first four months of the year and El Nino/La Nina state have been largely accurate in predicting past years, they pretty wildly missed the mark in 2023.”

“If factors that led to 2023 being warmer than expected persist, and global temperatures do not fall as the year progresses and El Nino fades and La Nina develops, than its possible we could see higher temperatures than currently forecast,” the scientist warned.

With four months of data now in from ERA5, we see a roughly 66% chance that 2024 will surpass 2023 as the warmest year on record – and a >99% chance it will be one of the top-two warmest years. The current best-estimate is that 2024 will come it at just above 1.5C: — Zeke Hausfather (@hausfath) May 6, 2024

Should this scenario become a reality, the world would enter “uncharted territory,” as Climatologist Gavin Schmidt put it. This, Schmidt explained, could imply that climate systems are already misbehaving and the way they are operating is changing much earlier than predicted, making it increasingly difficult to predict weather patterns, including drought periods and rainfall.

Featured image: Copernicus Climate Change Service/ECMWF

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